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Softshell Turtles are found throughout Florida and many adjacent states. Males are smaller than females in overall body size, but have longer tails. Healthy Softshell Turtles can live anywhere from 10 to 75 years. They can become somewhat aggressive if allowed to grow large, but still make excellent pets. Regular handling will keep them hand-tame.
Softshell Turtles are quite intelligent, and can learn to respond to their names. Feed your turtle the proper amount of food each day (overfeeding can be fatal). Softshell Turtles prefer dried shrimp bits or live fish. To train it, hand-feed it occasional treats such as bits of raw lean hamburger, raw chicken livers, tiny live fish, or dried shrimp tidbits.
Never drop your Softshell Turtle, or let it fall off the table. The impact can kill it. As its name indicates, a Softshell Turtle's shell is very soft and flexible. When small, it's actually translucent around the edges. It's sturdier than it looks--but still, you should always handle a Softshell Turtle with care. Your child(ren) will enjoy playing with this curious, energetic pet, but should always be closely supervised.
Important Note #1: Softshell TURTLES WILL GROW TO THE SIZE OF THEIR ENVIRONMENT. If you want your Softshell Turtle to stay small, you must keep it in a small tank. Do not put your Softshell Turtle in a large (i.e. 10 gallon) tank unless you want it to grow HUGE! Softshell Turtles placed in large tanks or ponds can grow to 4 FEET in diameter.
Important Note #2: HANDLING A TURTLE WILL NOT MAKE YOU SICK. The salmonella bacteria is a form of e-coli, which lives in the G.I. tract of nearly every living creature, including humans. Most people have a natural immunity to this bacteria, which is why the disease is extremely rare. In order to get sick, you would have to let your turtle’s water get so filthy that it’s black and stinking--and then drink the water. Simply handling a turtle will not cause or spread disease. (See cleaning tips below.)
Creating The Proper Habitat
Keep your Softshell Turtle in a warm room, but do not place its tank in front of a window. Too much direct sunlight and/or heat can kill it. Heat lamps and water heaters are not necessary, and in fact can be dangerous to your Softshell Turtle if used improperly.
Wild Softshell Turtles often like to dig in the mud, so don't be surprised if your new pet spends much of its time half-buried under its gravel.
Never fill your tank with more than a few inches of water, unless you also provide your turtle with some kind of raft or floating sponge to climb on. It will drown if it cannot rest on something solid, and still poke its head out of the water. Also remember that Softshell Turtles eat fish along with bits of vegetation. If you put a Softshell Turtle in your fish tank, it may eat your fish (even the big ones).
Softshell Turtles need to climb out of the water every day for at least a few hours. That helps dry out their shells, which keeps them healthy. If you cannot take your Softshell Turtle out of its tank every day, make sure to keep a calcium block in its water.
Cleaning The Tank
Your Softshell Turtle’s water must be cleaned at least twice a week. Turtles are messy eaters, and will defecate in their water. In rare cases, exceptionally dirty water can lead to disease (see above) for both turtles and humans. Fortunately it’s very easy to clean a turtle tank. Simply empty the dirty water and gravel into a kitchen strainer, rinse the gravel under running water, and pour it back into the empty tank.
You can buy expensive de-chlorination chemicals to treat your slider’s water, but why waste the money? Simply fill a clean, empty milk jug with water, and let it sit out uncovered overnight. Then fill your slider’s tank with that naturally-aged water. A single milk jug can last for two or more weeks.
With proper care, your Softshell Turtle will be the easiest pet you’ll ever own. Enjoy!